CD Reviews, Download Reviews

Thursday 18th August

August 18, 2011

For the one or two of you that follow these pages to keep up with my life rather than my musical interests, I am feeling much better and plan to return to work tomorrow, albeit in a ‘standing around watching and not doing anything remotely strenuous’ capacity. Life has been a bit weird here for the past couple of weeks, and a little depressing, so I hope that a return to a regular pattern will get some kind of normality back into things quickly.

Today, despite there still being a veritable mountain of CDs here to write about I chose to listen to and review in some way a couple of free downloads involving Jack Harris, one solo piece and a duo with Samuel Rodgers. These two are producing some extremely interesting work right now, much of it available for free so far. The solo piece is named (oddly) These are my fingers and is available as a free lossless file from the Compost and Height net label here, and the duo, a live recording from a concert named School of Noises #1 is available in a variety of formats (though I would always recommend lossless) from Harris’ Bandcamp site here. Reviewing them together is perhaps not the correct thing to do as they are quite different, but given they are both relatively brief its maybe warranted on this occasion.

Jack Harris (I believe) plays laptop, working with field recordings and other electronic sounds. He may also use non-computerised electronics, though I don’t think any appear on These are my fingers. The track lasts little more than eleven minutes, but unless you turn the volume right up (and I actually recommend headphones for this one) you miss everything that happens in the first two minutes. In fact not a lot happens, though we hear a very distant field recording of a busy road, exceptionally quietly. At the two minute mark the disc still doesn’t exactly crank up the decibels but here the same recording gets slightly louder, cars passing regularly through the murky recording with a steady rhythm. It isn’t a motorway we hear, but let’s say I wouldn’t fancy trying to cross this road too slowly. This recording then seems to be layered (I think) with at least one other, as we hear tother more natural sounds, wind, pigeons cooing, other birds twittering, the everyday sounds of the English countryside on a nice day. There are other sounds as well, but they are so slight, so vague, that they may just have been the sound of Harris making the other recordings caught by the microphone. (the sound of his fingers?) I’m not sure. At one point there is the briefest of hums that sounds vaguely instrumental, a trombone or something, but I wonder as I listen hard if I’m not just finding shapes formed in the combined recordings that aren’t there. Its hard to tell. The overall impact is great, quiet, mysterious, demanding careful attention, very much to my taste.

School of Noises #1 is a different affair then, though it does retain a similar sense of the aloof mystery of Harris’ solo in that I am again not certain of what I am hearing. The recording begins with the sound of people in a room, perhaps a concert audience, perhaps the concert audience at this particular show, but what is unusual is that they don’t stop chattering, chinking glasses, playing snooker (at a gig? this makes me wonder if what we hear is a field recording rather than the concert’s audience, though I just don’t know.) The seventeen minute long piece opens with a low continuous tone and a few swells of feedback which sits in place for a couple of minutes before cutting out, leaving the crowd noise (it actually sounds like a student union bar, young voices in a relaxed atmosphere) to sit for a few seconds before a loud blast of digitally created white noise obliterates everything. Or does it obliterate everything? Does the crowd sound stop when the white noise is present? Listening hard I can’t hear it under the loud intrusion, and when it ends, as abruptly as everything else here, the immediate return of the people chattering seems quite stark, as if we should have still been able to hear it. Hard to tell. The music then goes through similar passages of sine tones, grabs of radio and pre-recorded speech, feedback and shuffling scuffs of abrasive sound made presumably by scraping contact mics about. Although there are lulls in the audience sound, and one seems to appear as a particularly Sachiko M-esque sine tone hits, which makes me wonder if its sudden arrival does have an impact, the chatter doesn’t end, people still play snooker, and as the music goes through some really quite violent shifts in dynamic it continues.

Then near the end of the piece one of the musicians begins to hit something metallic repeatedly for a few minutes, and this action, quite starkly different to what we have heard before seems to lower the chatter again, but did someone just turn the volume down on a recording? As the metal strikes end so the snooker is there again, coughs, doors slamming etc… This is a curious piece, which is certainly presented as a work using the sound of the crowd as an integral part of the recording. Whether the audience at the gig were just very disrespectful, and the recording, having captured this, works well using this as am element to the presented work, or whether we are hearing a field recording isn’t clear to me. Right at the end, as the musicians end there is a ripple of applause, but I can’t quite tell if this rises from within the existing crowd sounds or sits on top as the field recording continues. There is one clue though at the end that makes me think that indeed this is just a recording of a noisy audience that doesn’t understand how to approach this music as in the dying seconds a young female voice appears to say “is there a name for that band?”. if indeed the duo played on through all of this apparent disinterest in their work then mush respect to them for doing so, but even more so for realising the potential of the resulting recording as a work in itself. I’d thoroughly recommend downloading these tracks and discovering them for yourself, and Jack, Samuel, I’m intrigued to know what I am hearing here!


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